I’m back from my 900-mile round trip in the 2013 Volt and I have a lot to say. First I would like to thank General Motors’ West Coast PR team for loaning me a Crystal Red 2013 Volt for the week. I had a lot of fun driving the car and saved a lot of money that I would have otherwise spent on fuel and car rental fees.
Driving Style and Fuel Economy
The 2013 Volt has 4 modes: Normal, Sport, Mountain, and Hold. Obviously, in normal mode, the car operates normally. After the 38 EV miles are up, the car switches to gasoline. Sport mode is exactly like normal mode, but the pedal is remapped to be more sensitive to acceleration. There isn’t any more power available in sport, but the pedal feels more responsive. Mountain mode holds about 50% of the battery, so the battery pack can provide a boost when climbing mountains. The gasoline engine isn’t as powerful as the electric drive system, so if you don’t enter mountain mode, the car may struggle and go into a low power mode when climbing long mountains. Hold mode manually switches from EV mode to gasoline mode, just as if the battery were depleted. Hold mode is perfect for saving your electric power for parts where the electric drive system is most efficient.
I started the trip off with a full charge and put the car in mountain mode, since I had to pass through the Grapevine. After about 20 miles, the gasoline engine seamlessly kicked in. At freeway speeds, you can’t tell that the engine is on. And because the electric motor is still primarily propelling the vehicle, you don’t lose the feeling of instant torque that the electric motor provides. In mountain mode, if the state of charge falls below about 50%, the car will charge the battery using the gasoline generator. While climbing the grapevine, the car was in this charging state and I needed to accelerate up a hill to pass someone. I floored the pedal, expecting the usual torque from the Volt. However, the car began to slow down for about half a second before accelerating again. This was scary, as I thought the car was going to break down. It wouldn’t have been as scary in a normal gasoline powered car, where you are used to feeling gears shifting. I was expecting smooth instant torque, but I was surprised to actually slow down before picking up speed again. This only happened once during my drive. The rest was super smooth, torquey driving.
After the Grapevine, I kept the car in Mountain mode, so the battery pack would stay at about 50% so I could use EV mode when I hit traffic on the 580. As soon as I hit traffic, I put the car into normal mode, and was able to creep along in EV mode. I’m not really sure how much more efficient this is, because the Volt’s gasoline engine usually shuts off when traveling slowly like this. I must have switched modes at just the right time, because the battery depleted and the engine kicked in when I was about 500 feet from my destination. The 454.2-mile trip averaged 38.1 MPG, which is almost exactly the same as my Civic Hybrid would get on the same trip with the same conditions.
That said, I enjoyed driving the Volt way more than I had expected. Having that electric propulsion (even when it’s powered by a gasoline generator) makes the driving experience so much more enjoyable. Before the trip, I was considering trying out another car, like a Prius C, the next time I take the trip. After driving the Volt up, I don’t want to drive another under-powered hybrid on a long trip like that. The Volt gets great fuel economy and is fun to drive. The only other car I’d like to take on that trip is a Tesla Model S, but let’s face it, that’s not gonna happen.
I charged at my destination and used the same modes on the way back, saving my EV miles for LA traffic this time. On the way back, I got 39 MPG, which again is consistent to what I got in my Civic Hybrid. However, the Volt is slightly less efficient on a long trip like this, because it takes about 16kWh (roughly $2.50 worth) of electricity to get those numbers. Additionally, the Civic Hybrid could make the trip without having to stop for gas. The Volt’s 9-gallon gas tank means you’ll have to stop for gas once on a trip like this. Not a huge deal, since I needed to get out and stretch anyway.
The Infotainment Center
The Volt has a LOT of cool features. The center dash has a 7″ touchscreen and the 2013 has the Chevy MyLink System. The system integrates with your smartphone connected through USB or Bluetooth. I listen to a lot of Pandora, so the Pandora interface was wonderful. My Fit EV will show the song and album art, but the 2013 Volt actually lets you change the Pandora Station and thumbs up or down a song. I felt that the Pandora integration was much smoother than the iPod integration, which consists of slow menus that are difficult to navigate. I feel like no automakers have gotten smartphone integration right quite yet, but the 2013 MyLink system is getting close. There were times when Pandora would pause for no reason, or if I received a phone call. I was unable to resume playing music without disconnecting the phone, quitting Pandora, opening pandora and reconnecting the phone. This happened several times and I found myself yelling at the radio.
While I had my fair share of problems with the infotainment center, it’s definitely an improvement from the 2011 Volt and even the Fit EV. I’m sure if I used it for a few weeks I would figure out how to live with all of it’s quirks. I’m sure it’s not easy to build a car that can interface with every smartphone without having to download anything extra. Computer’s still can’t do that. I look forward to seeing the next generation of Chevy’s MyLink.
Power Usage Data
One of my favorite features of the 2013 Volt is the power usage display. Chevrolet did a great job at showing enough technical data without overwhelming the driver with information. I also appreciate that it’s right on the dashboard and not taking over the infotainment center where I want to see navigation, climate, or radio information. The display shows power flow using bars and gives you a number in kW of the power going to or coming from the wheels. I think other car companies should take note of this. It’s really useful info that has allowed me to understand how the Volt works and closely watch my power consumption (I’m not a fan of the “efficiency ball”). Nissan LEAF owners are hacking their cars to get this kind of data, but the Volt just shows it in a user-friendly way. No hacking required.
Overall, I enjoyed the Volt more than I thought I would. In the past, driving the Volt has stressed me out, knowing that once I pass that 40-mile mark I will have to use gas. This is why I chose to get a pure EV. Maybe it was because I knew from the beginning that I would be using gas, I didn’t have that 40-mile electric range anxiety. The Volt really makes a lot of sense, especially for someone who cannot charge at home or who often drives more that 100 miles. If I had taken this trip before leasing my Fit EV, I would have had a more difficult decision to make. This time I wasn’t even considering a plug-in hybrid, but in 3 years when my lease expires, I’m sure there will be at least one PHEV on my list.